Tuesday, June 3, 2014

My first week back in Virginia

This is the first entry in a blog series I am writing this summer to explore both my time here in Virginia this summer, as well as my last six years in New Orleans.  I've put this off a few days, I think mainly because I'm afraid of what I'll find when I begin.  So we're going to discover some things together.  This is both for my benefit and yours, so please do reach out and let me know what you think.  I hope this is interesting and thought-provoking. At times, it will be hilarious. There are a couple posts already here from a year ago, and I invite you to read them, particularly The Last Gentleman.

Best to start where I am, which is on the porch of my family's white clapboard country house, circa 1880, in the hushed hamlet of Orkney Springs, VA. The year-round population is about 20, and our mailing address is PO Box 12.  We have neighbors, but it is fairly quiet.  The Great North Mountain hides the evening sun early as he looks over us, and his scout, Yellow Spring Mountain, keeps even closer watch.  Shrine Mont, the Diocese of Virginia's Camps and Conferences Center, and the seat of the Bishop of Virginia, the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, is located just a few hundred yards from our front step.  Shrine Mont is a spiritual home and birthplace for me and hundreds of others in Virginia.  All my closest friends worked there as counselors, and as any good counselor will tell you, relationships forged while praying, playing, and working with children are as strong and true and weatherproof as nature herself. 
My relationship to this place is different than the others, though, because while my friends come just for the summer (and now only for the July 4th reunion/Bishop's bluegrass festival), I have been coming to this little house nestled in the Shenandoah Valley since the late 80's, in the fall, winter, and spring as well, and even lived here for a few months while I completed my student-teaching at Broadway High School, on my way to a degree in Physical Education at Bridgewater College.  Particularly since my parents' divorce and the sale of my childhood home some years ago, this house and the surrounding small towns represent home.  
The Shenandoah Valley stretches from The Potomac River to the James, bounded by the West Virginia line to the west and Blue Ridge mountains to the east.  It is dappled with working farms and farmettes, grazing cattle, faded red barns and old gray outbuildings, heaving and sagging from the weight of the past. The area is most well-known, historically, as the setting for Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign, and the battle of New Market, where young cadets from nearby Virginia Military Institute were called into battle against the Union.  That history echoes in the names of things, like Stonewall Jackson High School, in the town of Mt Jackson; the New Market Rebels and Waynesboro Generals, college summer league teams; and Washington and Lee University.
It is a beautiful, serene place to be, particularly in the early inklings of summer, when the days begin and end like a glass of chilled water, and the waking hours stretch out warmly under a blue sky spangled with white tufts of cottony clouds. 
I am certain that I am here for cosmic and spiritual reasons, and the path which delivered me here is a story I'll tell throughout these blogs.  I do not have a job, although I have a couple leads through relationships with really wonderful people.  I have very little money, most of it spent trying to get my failed financial planning career off the ground in New Orleans.  What little I do have needs to be saved for first and last month's rent wherever I go next.  I am living here in Orkney Springs with my father, who moved a year ago to New Orleans, and then decided to come back to Virginia.  His decision and mine were not linked (to my knowledge) but a result of good timing.  So I am living with my father, my great hero, in the Shenandoah Valley, a place of spacious country beauty far away from the crowds and din of city life, criss-crossed with gravel roads and fragranced by fresh cut grass, working farms, and the breath of the mountains. I am the happiest I've been in at least two years.  
My friend Charles told me recently in an observation about my winding path and leaving New Orleans, the city I love and that has been my home for the last six years, "you really love beginnings.  I mean you REALLY love the beginning of things, man."  It's true, I really do.  So here we sit, at the beginning of things--we are always really at the beginning of things--and I am excited.  Thanks for coming on the journey with me. We are going to have a lot of fun.  


  1. I really look forward to taking this journey with you. You are an excellent writer. Love the two from last year as well. I still see the young man we visited in New Orleans and the younger man I taught! Keep up the writing and the discernment.

  2. Hey, GUY! I'm in London for the summer with work and was just transported back to your front porch in Orkney. Seriously. Great post!

    Can't wait to see you at The Wedding of the Century (is it October yet?) and I look forward to reading more! xoxoxo

  3. Your words are both beautiful and powerful. Thank you for sharing and taking me (virtually) to this place that you call home. Wishing you the best because you deserve it!

  4. I feel like I am walking beside you. I miss you my friend.

  5. Hi Pete,

    Thank you for sharing your words and feelings. It's hard to be vulnerable and honest in today's world. So, muchas gracias for being brave and letting it all out. I haven't been back to Shrinemont/St. George's/Orkney Springs since age 15 (I will be 30 in January -- AHH), but it is a VERY special place and it's always been in my heart. My family did a weekend or so every summer at Shrinemont for many years before they found St. George's for me. I went to Radford University for 4 yrs and I would always stop at the Mt. Jackson exit off of 81 on my way to and from home in northern VA (I refuse to call it NOVA), mostly because I knew the area. Somehow I always felt like I would be safe there -- even at the Sheetz. I know we never talk, but thanks again for being courageous and open and true.

    Always a St. G's Gal,


  6. Hey Pete, I finally made it to your blog, and very much look forward to reading more.

    And let me know about dinner :)

    - Your fellow lover of the Shenandoah Valley